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On Writing: Making a Point vs. Telling a Story

The Gnoll Credo front coverFrom an offline discussion about my novel The Gnoll Credo:

“There’s a lot to be found in very few words inside The Gnoll Credo—and that is precisely because I didn’t set out to write something deep or profound. I simply wrote down everything I knew about Gryka’s life, and how knowing her affected me—which gives the narrative a richness and verisimilitude totally lacking in polemics like (to pick two opposing examples) Ishmael or The Fountainhead.

“When an author sets out to make a point instead of telling a story, their characters are immediately demoted to the status of objects: bricks to construct metaphors, mouthpieces for polemic, puppets to perform a shadow play. The result may be clever and interesting, but it is rarely deep or profound, and almost never bears the sort of analysis you are bringing to the table. I believe this to be behind the postmodern obsession with authorial intent, though probably not consciously: when “characters” are almost always simple objects, all meaning flows from the author.

“In contrast, characters in a real narrative are autonomous entities. The narrative flows naturally from their actions. It contains the richness of their desires, fears, motivations, and history, not all of which will be explicitly stated in the text—and it can be analyzed on its own terms, as a description of events.

“This is a much richer ground in which to forage for meaning. To use a metaphor, “making a point” is agricultural. It can create one specific idea, very quickly…but anything else is pollution or a weed, and there is little to explore in a field of Roundup Ready soybeans. In contrast, “telling a story” is organic, wild, complex, forest and jungle and savanna and desert, a living community within which foraging can be very rewarding…

…for those with eyes to see.”

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Rugby, Macrame, and Monster Suits

“I’ve read many fantasy novels containing non-human societies. Usually the descriptions are simply unworkable: ‘Who feeds all these warriors ?’ often comes to mind. Of the remainder, most authors seem to concentrate on the details of the power structure, with a sidelong mention of one sport and one artistic or craft skill to typify the race (‘the Threngia enjoy bufwa, a sport similar to rugby, and macrame’). Only rarely do I receive any description that causes me to feel as if I’m learning about anything other than an obscure human tribal culture, tarted up in monster suits.”
-doubletime, from the gnolls.org forums

This is a great quote, and I expect I will steal parts of it in the future.

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Mountain Biking In Jeans

Having finally finished my errands in early evening, I drove a couple miles to a local trailhead in order to squeeze in a mountain bike ride before the sun set. Upon arrival, I unloaded my gear…bicycle, helmet, gloves, pack with water and toolkit, shoes, riding clothes…

…riding clothes?

Oops.

Ordinarily I don’t care much about what I wear when I ride. My usual gear is a hockey practice jersey and whatever shorts are clean that day. But I had arrived at the trailhead in jeans and a collared shirt, and there wasn’t time to drive home and back and still get a ride in before dark.

So I stripped off the shirt and belt, rolled up my pant legs, saddled up, and started pedaling. And you know what?

Riding in jeans is a bit sweaty, but after perhaps ten minutes that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am on a trail in the mountains, riding my bicycle. I hear the birds call and the insects drone and the rushing of the creek, I see the lupines and the mule’s ears and the phlox and the hundreds of other flowers I don’t even know the names of, and I stop to watch the sun set over the lake. Then I begin my descent, flowing like water over the rocks and through the trees, quietly rolling downhill into the shadows of another cool, crisp summer evening…

…and though my jeans and I both need a wash, I’m far happier than the version of me who grumbled in disgust and headed home to surf the Internet or read a book about other people doing things.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS

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